Manchester Metropolitan University degree apprentices selected York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering and its corporate partners to gain global industry exposure and share important lessons.
By Elaine Smith
From June 3 to July 3, York University was home to eight students from Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) who were taking part in an opportunity offered by the U.K.’s Turing Scheme, which gives students a chance to gain international experience. Named in honour of the renowned British mathematician and computer scientist, Alan Turing, the program is designed to support life-changing international experiences for study or professional advancement. The visit to York University is special because it does both, and it is one of the select Canadian programs delivered under the Turing Scheme’s inaugural call.
The students are part of Manchester Met’s Digital & Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship program, which allows them to earn university degrees while working in industry and earning a salary. It’s similar to a model that Jane Goodyer, dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York, pioneered in New Zealand and plans to introduce at York in 2023.
Over the course of their degree apprenticeship program at Manchester Met, students spend 20 per cent of their time in class and 80 per cent applying what they’ve learned to industry jobs and learning workplace skills. Many degree apprenticeship participants are employed full time at the same employer for four years, earning a competitive salary while studying towards a Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) degree. York University’s program will offer a variation on that theme.
“I was commissioned by the New Zealand government to lead a pilot program [for work-integrated-learning] and Manchester Met became our advisors,” said Goodyer. “Although this learning model is a first for Canada, where students spend the majority of their time working with employers, it is widely used across more than 100 universities in the U.K. We’re proud to be working closely with Manchester Met, one of the U.K.’s leading providers, with over 2,500 students enrolled in these kinds of programs whilst working with 544 employers. Our intention is to bring this concept to Canada and it’s a win-win for us to have these students visit. It is informative and a joy for academics and Canadian employers to learn first-hand about their experiences.”
For their part, the Manchester Met students visiting York University had an opportunity to expand their professional exposure beyond the U.K. context.
“We want our students to have international awareness and exposure,” said Darren Dancey, a professor of computer science at Manchester Met. “They can see what is common and what is unique and compare and contrast. The Turing Scheme is fairly new in the U.K., and we think we are the first apprenticeship program to use it. The opportunity for our students to come to York came out of our international network where Jane, who is passionate about work-integrated-learning, plays a leading role.”
Since most of the students are involved in work year-round at their jobs as part of the apprenticeship program, they were given time off to spend a month at York.
“The employers have been hugely supportive,” said Dancey. “They see them as people well worth investing in.”
The students had a full schedule while at York University. After a week of orientation to Lassonde and the University, they attended classes four days each week; visited technology companies, including Ceridian, CGI, IBM Canada, mimic Technology Inc., Shopify and Pearson; and met weekly with the University stakeholders responsible for the curriculum for the forthcoming York program. There was also time built into their visit to take in some of the area’s sights, such as the waterfront, Niagara Falls and Canada’s Wonderland.
Two members of the group, Tasmia Niazi and Ryan Whittaker, both recently finished their software engineering undergraduate degrees at Manchester Met and have accepted positions – and promotions – with the companies where they did their apprenticeships, Lloyd’s Banking Group and AstraZeneca, respectively.
“As a student and a full-time employee, you spend four years learning about the processes and procedures of the employer, which makes you a very valuable team member,” said Niazi. “I don’t understand why someone would leave.”
Whittaker agreed. “After four years, you’re so well integrated,” he said. “I appreciate the benefits and the confidence I’ve gained, and I want to stay. People who leave university with the usual degree start in entry-level jobs, but we’ve had a four-year head start.”
They are also ahead financially, having earned while they learned.
According to Manchester Met, the average student salary a year after graduating is 46 per cent higher than the average U.K. computer science graduate and five per cent higher than graduates from the top five U.K. computing courses. Across all Manchester Met’s degree apprenticeships, learners performed so well during their programs, 78 per cent received a pay-raise and 64 per cent received a promotion.
“As working and learning occur in a seamless environment, businesses can benefit from a learner’s access to the latest expertise, knowledge and resources a university provides,” said Goodyer. “A vehicle for social mobility, the program offers a pathway into higher education for non-traditional learners, particularly those underrepresented in the technology sector or those without the means to pursue a traditional degree.”
The U.K. visitors enjoyed sharing their degree apprenticeship experiences with York faculty and staff, as well as Canadian employers who are potential participants in York’s upcoming work-integrated program in Digital Technologies.
“It has been an opportunity to talk about what we do day-to-day,” said Niazi. “Since York University is trying to implement a similar program, it felt right to help employers understand it and see how they can onboard and support learners.”
While in Canada (“It’s a massive country!”), the pair enjoyed the opportunity to live on campus with their fellow students, something that was not possible while doing their degrees.
“I missed out on university living, so that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come,” said Whittaker. “The educational system is very different here with majors and minors and there is much more granular detail in the lectures. I am enjoying the exposure to the North American market and would like to spend more time here to explore the different lifestyle and work culture.”
Niazi noted that most of the British student visitors, “never knew each other because we’re in different years or different courses. It has been great getting to know each other and learn from their experiences, too.”
Although York University has yet to inaugurate its Integrated Program, the connection between York and Manchester Met will continue, based on longstanding personal connections, the value propositions each university’s ecosystem brings to the partnership, a mutual desire for reciprocal student mobility, and the U.K. model to which Lassonde aspires. The partnership between York University and Manchester Met exemplifies how international collaborations offer a mutual benefits for students, faculty and higher education ecosystems.